If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, “Playing it safe isn’t good enough; I have to try things that might fail,” you might want to read that first.
I don’t belong on this earth.
All my life, I’ve felt as though I was dropped off on the wrong planet, because I feel like an alien here. I feel as though I don’t belong. In fact, I feel most alone when I’m in groups of people, because it reminds me how different I feel.
In the most basic of ways, I lack connection with the vast majority of people. That leaves me feeling isolated, alone and frustrated.
As I go through life, I sometimes feel like questioning my sanity, because I see things in the world and in people and in relationships that other people seem not to notice — almost as though there’s an unspoken agreement to ignore certain things.
I feel like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I feel as though almost everybody is pretending not to notice things which seem painfully obvious to me. But then I start wondering whether I really see what I think I see. Am I the one who’s imagining things?
When I try to tell others what I see, there’s mostly a shrug of indifference or else they look away as though I’ve mentioned something that’s impolite to mention. And that lack of interest from almost everyone else makes me certain that I’m an alien.
There’s something about this place — and these people — that I don’t understand.
This feeling of disconnection makes me doubt myself and doubt the things I see clearly and want to shout about — and it makes me desperate to find other people who clearly see reality as I see it, because it makes me feel very much alone.
From time to time, I meet a very few other people who similarly seem to be of another world — who seem to have the same need and desire to find others like them, to make a connection with people who can love them and understand them as they are, not as the society around them pressures them to be.
Brené Brown has become one of my favorite writers. She’s a social work researcher who has studied what traits make some people happy and some miserable, to radically oversimplify her work about shame, vulnerability and worthiness, among other things. In her book, “Daring Greatly,” she spoke about the importance of connection between people.
“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives,” she wrote. “The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed [in my research] when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection — the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”
I long for love and emotional connection with emotionally safe people. Here’s what I’ve realized. To really connect with a person is to feel accepted and understood. To feel disconnected and misunderstood in life is to feel rejected as a person. In one way or another, that disconnection leads to early death — maybe just inside your soul at first, but eventually in the literal sense.
Some people crave money or power or thrills or prestige. I don’t understand those people, even though I accept that most people do understand them. Those desires seem normal to most people. To me, the idea of craving the things they crave seems completely alien.
What does all of this have to do with creating art? And why is it so important that I figure out how these two parts of me — the Artist and the Lizard Brain — can get along well enough to let me make art?
I’m addicted to the intense feelings that come from certain types of emotional experiences — because those experiences allow me to feel connected to other people. Different forms of that can be generated by close attachments to another person and by emotional experiences with others, of course, but they can also be created through art.
Music, photography and movies in particular tend to give me this feeling, although I can also sometimes feel the same things from beautiful paintings, sculptures and buildings. These experiences release something inside of me in the same way that an adrenaline junkie has something inside released by a roller coaster or something else that he finds exciting.
It’s something inside that pushes emotional buttons — and I need the feelings that come from that in order to feel my most alive. And I feel most alive when I’ve made something and that “something” connects with other people.
When people love my work, I feel loved and understood. I feel connected. I feel worthy.
We go through life acting like islands who don’t need connection. Things such as pride and fear of rejection leave us separate and disconnected, but the child selves inside of us know better. Those parts of us have no such fear and pride. They know we need connection, but we’ve been trained to ignore them.
(The art at the top of this article represents that idea. It was at Burning Man this year. I thought it was a stunningly original way to represent the way many of us feel. We turn our backs on one another, but the children inside need and want connection.)
I feel an intensity inside that’s impossible to describe in words. I’ve tried to explain it to many people. A very few get it. Most just stare blankly, because they have no frame of reference.
I need connection. Yes, I need love in the same ways that everybody else does, of course, but it goes beyond that. I don’t feel alive without these emotional connections. I feel as though I’m drifting into a deep pit of despair without them. So I seek those connections like a junkie who desperately needs his fix — and the only way I’ve found to get that connection is to create something and find people who can appreciate it and love it.
Every now and then — very, very rarely — I meet someone who seems to be of my tribe. Or at least something very similar. I feel deep connection with that rare person and I try to hold onto the relationship, even though holding onto people like this can be difficult. Sometimes even explosive.
Holding onto this sort of person can be like holding onto a tornado at times. It scares you. It’s not that you want to hold onto a tornado, though. It’s that you finally realize that the bad comes with the good. You accept that both of you are freaks in your own way — and you work really hard to find ways for these two freaks to understand one another and give each other the emotional connection they so desperately need.
I need to make art because it’s the only way I know to connect with people. In a very real sense, it’s a bridge that lets this alien feel connected to others for a change.
The idea of releasing art into the world is terrifying to me. People might judge me. (Some of them will judge me.) Some people won’t get my work. Some people will hate my work. The fact that I care what those people think angers me, but it’s hard for me to stop caring — and stop fearing the judgment.
The only reason I could risk it is for the exhilaration of connection.
I need one person to connect with more than everybody else — a muse, a friend, a partner. But I also need artistic peers and I need those who can understand what I need and want to say.
Yes, I want to make art for myself. I need to make art for myself.
More than anything, though, the child inside me is pounding to get out — to somehow connect with others, to not feel so alone, to not feel like an alien — and making art is the only way he knows that might work.
Next in Part 3: “Becoming who you really are might require changing what others want”